Current Affairs Politics

Ex-SDLP Leader Mark Durkan Becomes Fine Gael European Candidate

The news that Mark Durkan, the former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, has suspended his party membership to contest the European parliamentary elections in Dublin on behalf of Fine Gael, while surprising, is certainly not unprecedented. When Fianna Fáil and the SDLP announced their joint policy alignment in late January, many members of the regional organisation claimed that the formal alliance with the centre-right national grouping was a betrayal of its left-wing roots. Arguably, though, those roots were never particularly deep in the first place. Despite its nominal relationship with the Labour Party and its counterpart in Britain, several SDLP members have followed a similar route into national right-wing politics. Austin Currie, a County Tyrone politician and one of the SDLP’s original founders in the early 1970s, went on in the late 1980s and 1990s to become a TD for the constituency of Dublin West, a presidential nominee and a government minister for FG. His daughter, Emer Currie, is currently Leo Varadkar’s running-mate in the constituency her father represented and a long-time party activist.

Mark Durkan’s candidacy illustrates that the SDLP’s ideological instincts are a lot more complex than it lets on. Even to itself. It also gives added weight to the belief that there has been a sea-change in Irish politics created by Brexit and two decades of post-Good Friday Agreement relations on the island. If peace comes dropping slow, so does reunification.


8 comments on “Ex-SDLP Leader Mark Durkan Becomes Fine Gael European Candidate

  1. It has always seemed to me that a lot of British and Continental pundits (even ordinary people) can be somewhat biased towards “idealized” assumptions of what party politics should look like. By idealized I mean, a notion that says parties should be more or less “all about” the sort of classical late 19th/early 20th century Left–Right political spectrum and anything else is a a “side salad” at best.

    I suspect some have difficulty making sense of Fianna Fail. Even being more used to “wide tents” and having believed since my late teens the left-right spectrum had some major limits as a paradigm-I find Fianna Fail a fairly confusing political party.

    It start out as De Valera’s party, yes? He was a hard to pin down guy in many ways.


    • Fianna Fáil is simple enough to understand – it is whatever you want it to be (which, in fairness, could be said of a lot of successful political parties).


      • Hmmm. That is something of a problem for voters in terms of knowing what they are voting for. Especially, I’d think this would be a problem in a Parliamentary System. In Presidential or semi-Presidential system you learn about the candidate’s views even if he or she is from a broad tent party!! Not so much with Prime Minister.

        With Party Lists AND a Parliamentary system, I’d imagine that voting for “just the party”, would REALLY make a broad tent problematic!!! Yes, I’ve noticed that many people here are very fond of Ireland’s STV/multiC system, and it seems to have worked out very well overall. However, the vast majority of countries that wanted PR, go for these “Closed Party List” systems (which I personally detest).

        Yes, there are a lot of broad tent parties out there, but Fianna Fail strikes me as more “layered” than most.


  2. I had the great misfortune of meeting Durkan last year. He omitted the “Do you know who I am?” line, unfortunate as I usually reply “Why, do you have amnesia?” The SDLP were called the Stoop Down Low Party however they were honest, unlike S.F who sold out with the soi disant “policing agreement”. Isn’t “Derry Girls” fun?


  3. “Durkan’s candidacy illustrates that the SDLP’s ideological instincts are a lot more complex than it lets on. Even to itself.”
    Is it so complex? Or is this just another example of a member of a party that represents broken extreme centre politics easily slides into another such party.
    Different logo, same dubious white goods.


    • I’m not sure. Historically, the SDLP could well be described as the Not-SF-Party for northern nationalists (and for Dublin and London). A coalition of collective non-SF interests around a mixed and/or competing Labourite and conservative core.

      Absent its not-SF mission or rationale, it starts to fragment. So you have your self-styled socialist and conservative and progressive and neo-liberal factions pulling in different directions.

      Durkan has split off, kinda-sorta, to FG. Others might start mooching around Labour IRL or Labour UK. Or the Greens or Alliance. (FF seems cut off for now thanks to the supposed partnership.)

      I wouldn’t be surprised if some head off in Aontú’s direction. Or go the independent route.

      Whatever happens, the SDLP as we have known it is gone. Even if the rump will keep going for years to come.


      • Yep, agreed, the SDLP as was is gone. It was never very united but now it’s being cast to the winds. Not that it will go away, quite. But it’s quite feasible it would fragment in the way you suggest with only rump presence left.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. MEP lots of pay and feck all to do all day and some even never turned up in Brussels and they wonder why people are cynical


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